NOV 02, 2017 3:18 PM PDT

Study: Aspirin Slashes Digestive Cancer Risks


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Aspirin, one of the cheapest and most readily available drugs, may help people avoid a host of gastrointestinal cancers, including pancreatic and colorectal cancer – two of the most aggressive cancer types.

Formally known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), aspirin is the humble go-to drug used to treat a variety of health conditions like the common fevers, headaches, and inflammation. Doctors also prescribe this drug to reduce the risk of heart attacks for patients who have already had one.

And in recent years, aspirin gained the spotlight again as more research linked it to anti-cancer potential. Previous studies linked aspirin to lowering the risks for colorectal and colon cancer by close to 20 percent. Likely, aspirin’s anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties play a big part in its anti-cancer effects, but the exact mechanisms are only beginning to be unraveled.

Indeed, one study in 2009 stated, “Evidence clearly shows a chemopreventive effect for aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDS] on colorectal cancer and probably other cancer types."

“Aspirin has emerged as the most likely NSAID for use in chemoprevention because of its known cardiovascular benefit and available safety and efficacy data,” the study continued.

To fully understand the risk-benefits of aspirin in gastrointestinal cancer, scientists from the Chinese University of Hong Kong initiated an impressive effort that followed over 600,000 people for 14 years.

The population included over 206,000 aspirin-takers, with an average age of 67.5 years, and a median aspirin dose of 80 milligrams.

During the 14-year survey, researchers focused on the incidence of gastrointestinal cancers. This umbrella diagnosis includes cancer of the esophagus, liver, lung, pancreas, stomach, and colon. Non-gastrointestinal cancers were also recorded.

Nearly 16 percent of the study population received a cancer diagnosis, with lung cancer making up the majority. But when analyzed between those who took aspirin and those who didn’t, researchers noticed a drastic difference. People who used aspirin had between 24 to 47 percent reduction in the risk of colorectal, pancreatic, stomach, liver, and esophagus cancer (listed in increasing order of risk reduction).

"Long-term use of aspirin showed 24 percent to 47 percent significant reduction on major cancers in the [gastrointestinal] tract," the authors wrote. They added, “but the benefits are limited to some other non-[gastrointestinal] cancers, such as breast and kidney."

Of note, the US Preventative Services Task Force currently “recommends initiating low-dose aspirin use for the primary prevention of [colorectal cancer] in adults aged 50 to 59 [...] willing to take low-dose aspirin daily for at least 10 years."

The results offer additional support for the idea that cheap aspirin, one of the oldest medical compounds in human history, has more to offer than just relieving headaches. However, such results also beg further, more controlled clinical trials to be certain that the wonder drug is as good as we hope it to be.

Additional sources: MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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